Close encounters of the camping kind

UFO Combi VanOne of the great things about being on the road and staying in a different place nearly every night is the variety of people you meet. My year long trip around Australia was certainly no exception.

We were living fairly basically under canvas, which took us to some pretty out of the way locations for sleeping – the budget was tight, so free or incredibly cheap was the way forward. We slept beside rugby pitches and bowling greens, in trailer parks and on beaches. We camped under the stars, in the outback and in parking lots. Nowhere was out of bounds, if there was a free (and legal, of course) camping option, we took it. And we weren’t the only ones.

We met a whole range of folk, from the grey nomads who had permanently moved to a lifestyle lapping Australia by RV, to fellow work and travel visa holders, to families who had just upped sticks and headed out, all of us united in the goal of finding somewhere to stay the night at minimal cost.

On the road we encountered wonderful kindness, usually of a food and drink based nature. I will never forget being presented with a dish full of buttered chicken whilst parked deep in the outback, merely because I had remarked of our neighbours (the only other visible humans for perhaps hundreds of kilometres in any direction) that whatever they were As long as you wake up to coffee, where you camp is almost irrelevant! making smelt good. Nor the chap, out fishing for the day, who noticed at 11am that I looked a bit hot, and calmly presented me with a chilled beer for my journey.

We also encountered some pretty, well, interesting folk. At the top of the list, without any doubt at all, was the man we later referred to as UFO man. I’m sure he had a name beyond this, but it has been forgotten.

Our encounter with UFO man started off well. We were in the north-western corner of Western Australia, just south of Coral Bay, coming from a few wonderful days snorkelling on the Ningaloo reef. We pulled into one of the free camp areas just off the highway, which was possibly one of the least visually appealing sites we had visited. It was a large car park, with a couple of shelters, and the obligatory pit toilets, set in the middle of a barren wasteland. This was also the first day in around three months where the weather was not wonderful blue skies. It was, in fact, grey, windy and threatening to rain.

Cheap camping. It's not all champagne and caviar folks.This obviously worried us a little, as our camping set up wasn’t really geared towards strong winds and rain. We struggled for a while to erect camp, as the wind swept across the barren plains and pelted us with dust and giant spots of rain. Clearly, this was a sub-optimal solution. After struggling for a while however we had managed to rig up our tents in a vague approximation of uprightness, partly sheltered by our vehicle. It wasn’t perfect, but we figured it would have to do.

Then a chap approached. He had, he said, a large coach, waving to the other side of the car park, where indeed, a giant coach, painted all in black, was parked. Perhaps we would like to set our tents up in the shade of it, thus getting a lot more protection than our landcruiser was providing. This seemed like a wonderful idea, and thankfully we deconstructed our attempts at shelter and moved to the shade of his, entirely blacked out, coach. And it was a big thing too. Clearly converted for a lifetime on the road. Perfect for shelter provision.

I should add that we were not the only inhabitants of the car park. A couple of Belgian girls had their combi van nearby, in fact this was their second night at the spot. I’m not sure why they had elected to spend two days in what was essentially a car park off the main highway, but Belgium is pretty flat, so perhaps it felt like home. Anyway, Our camping in the rain skills evolved as the trip progressedthere is the scene. We were firing up dinner and getting to know our new friends. We cracked out the remains of our beer and whiskey supplies, and got through them. Darkness fell. All was well with the world. We chatted about the usual things, where we had been, where we were going, who we were.

Sadly, just after darkness fell, we ran out of alcohol. This was not a problem, informed our new coach driving friend. He happened to have a large supply of bourbon. We were welcome to have some. A bottle was procured, of a brand I had not heard of. We tried it, it was fine. Some shots were consumed. After we had drunk a fair portion of the bottle, it was revealed that the brand on the bottle was in fact largely irrelevant, because the chap brewed it himself. We looked at each other slightly nervously. We were accepting home brewed bourbon from someone we had only just met, who lived in a giant and, now it was dark, fairly sinister looking coach. In terms of things not to do when travelling, this was perhaps one of them. Even more suspiciously, he didn’t seem to want any himself.

Slightly unnerved, and handling the “bourbon” with a bit more fear than previously, we continued to chat, hoping that the fears were needless. After all, the Belgian girls had been there the night before, and they hadn’t been dissected in the back of the coach or anything. All must be well.

Some more time passed. All seemed fine. Some Korean chaps appeared, and made camp nearby. I was clearly worried about nothing. Then of course, the conversation went a little bit weird.

“Did you see that?”, said the coach man.

“See what?” We replied.

“The UFO that just flew by..”.

Close encounters of the rock art kind I goggled at him. My mouth was, I suspect, somewhat agape. I think I may have managed some quiet gurgling, which was not meant to be affirmative.

He went on: “I see them all the time of course.”

I really wasn’t sure where to go with this whole line of conversation, being somewhat out of my depth. I mean, I have chatted generally, and usually over beer, as to the possible existence of other life forms in the universe. When staring into the vastness of an outback night sky, it is hard not to.

But to have someone sitting right opposite me, in the shade of a darkened coach, clearly state that a UFO just flew over us, and that this happened regularly, was a bit beyond my standard repertoire.

Luckily, I was saved from having to actually come up with anything intelligible to say by one of my travelling companions, who was very interested in the whole thing. She asked all sorts of questions on the subject of UFO’s, from which we learnt all manner of thing. For example, we learnt about the different kinds of aliens that visited. We learnt their reasons for coming to earth. We learnt about human organ harvesting. We learnt that in a few Mostly the camping lifestyle was in fact, totally awesomeyears the whole earth was going to split in two, with only the chosen few being likely to survive. All very interesting stuff, all delivered with absolute conviction. All of which I tried desperately to listen to with a straight face and a calm, don’t cut me up in the back of your coach as a non-believer air.

After a while, I made my excuses about needing an early night, and headed to my tent, which wasn’t exactly far away. The Belgian girls had already made a run for it. My travelling companions weren’t far behind. We left the UFO man, rambling to himself at this point, to it. The next morning, we woke up happily still all whole, packed up, and left before he emerged, wondering quite what had happened. At least the bourbon had been good, and the conversation certainly hadn’t been boring.

Have you had any weird encounters whilst travelling? As always, let me know in the comments section below!

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